[Note: The below is for information purposes only, as is everything on this site. The decision to act upon any of it or not is the personal decision of the reader and any details regarding the observance of any halakhah – especially those laws which are intricate, complicated, and/or severe – should be discussed with a competent rav.]
[Further Note: The information and halakhot that are discussed below are of a sensitive nature and the post includes some graphic language related to both male and female anatomy, menstruation, and sexuality. It is perhaps not appropriate reading for children or youths.]
The following is a public service for the sake of the health of religious Jewish women and the increase of sexual health, enjoyment, and a general improvement of shalom bayit.
I would advise anyone who has not done so already to read my post about when to properly begin counting the seven clean days (shivah nekiyim – שבעה נקיים). That post, when combined with this one, fundamentally transforms taharat ha-mishpahah from a burden into something normal, reasonable, and manageable.
Painful Bedikot and Taharat HaMishpahah
Perhaps the most painful, irritating, invasive, and frustrating component of practical taharat ha-mishpahah is the frequent internal vaginal inspections with a cloth. The standard method that is prescribed by rabbis, kallah teachers, and yoatzot comes from the instructions for performing bedikot as found in the Shulhan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah 196:6), which states as follows:
כָּל בְּדִיקוֹת אֵלּוּ בֵּין בְּדִיקַת הֶפְסֵק טָהֳרָה בֵּין בְּדִיקַת כָּל הַשִּׁבְעָה צְרִיכוֹת לִהְיוֹת בְּבֶגֶד פִּשְׁתָּן לָבָן יָשָׁן אוֹ בְּצֶמֶר גֶּפֶן אוֹ בְּצֶמֶר לָבָן נָקִי וְרַךְ וְתַכְנִיסֶנּוּ בְּאוֹתוֹ מָקוֹם בָּעֹמֶק לַחוֹרִים וְלַסְדָקִים עַד מָקוֹם שֶׁהַשַּׁמָּשׁ דָּשׁ וְתִרְאֶה אִם יֵשׁ בּוֹ שׁוּם מַרְאֵה אַדְמוּמִית וְלֹא שֶׁתַּכְנִיסֵהוּ מְעַט לְקַנֵּחַ עַצְמָהּ
“All of these various bedikot, whether it is a bedikah for the purpose of a hefsek taharah or whether it is a bedikah for one of the seven clean days, it needs to be done with an old white linen cloth, or cotton, or clean white wool that is soft. This cloth is inserted deeply into ‘that place’ [i.e. the vagina] into all the folds and crevices until the place where the ‘member threshes’ [i.e. the opening of the cervix; where ejaculate enters], and she then looks to see if there is any reddish appearance. She does not simply insert it slightly, merely wiping herself.”
These inspections are not only difficult to do, but often lead to irritation of the vaginal canal and, in many cases, further bleeding. There have also been instances of infections or injury resulting from them, especially if the woman is the least bit obsessive and repeats them often. As a result of the discomfort, some women secretly neglect to do them, while others simply refuse to participate in taharat ha-mishpahah at all.
As will be seen below, the such intrusive “bedikot” need never be done, but only a simple wiping (of the type mentioned and rejected by the Shulhan Arukh itself).
In the Shulhan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah 196:1), Rav Yosef Karo prescribes a practice known as a mokh dahuk (מוך דחוק) wherein a woman, after having performed the bedikah just prior to sunset for a hefsek taharah, packs her vagina with clean wadded cloth for the duration of bein ha-shemashot until sundown. After tzeit ha-kokhavim (i.e. halakhic nightfall) the wadding is removed and inspected for spots of possible blood.
This practice was first recommended by the Rashba (Rav Shelomoh ben Aderet, 1235-1310) and was later adopted by other scholars in practice. Although a mokh is mentioned in the Talmud as form of birth control, it is never mentioned or prescribed by either Hazal or other Rishonim in connection with taharat ha-mishpahah. As such, it is not required at all by halakhah.
Many women find the use of a mokh to be not only uncomfortable, but also self-defeating since on the basis of it many women are told to delay an extra day or two in beginning their count of seven clean days. This very trying and unnecessary contrivance should be abandoned by Jewish women in favor of the relatively simple prescriptions of the Talmud, as codified -in this case – by the Rambam.
The Latest Mekori Manual on Taharat HaMishpahah
Translation of selections from Sefer Taharat Mosheh by Rav Tzefanyah Arusi, printed Makhon Mishnat HaRambam (Makhon Moshe”h – מכון מש”ה), pp. 103-104:
“Chapter 13: Hefsek Taharah (הפסק טהרה) and Counting Seven Clean Days (ספירת שבעה נקיים)
The Bedikah for a Hefsek Taharah
In the era of the sages of the Talmud, Jewish women were strict upon themselves and every amount of blood which they saw – which was accompanied by a hargashah  – even if it was only a drop the size of a mustard seed, and then counted seven clean days from the time that the blood stopped and then they immersed (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Isurei Bi’ah 11:4).
The widespread practice today (in accordance with the instruction of the aharonim ) is that just prior to the time of shekiah (which in their view refers to the concealment of the sun [היסתרות החמה] which is advertised in the calendars ), which is before she begins counting seven clean days, she is mafsikah taharah [i.e. she interrupts her unclean days by producing a ‘proof’ that her bleeding has stopped], that is she checks ‘that place’  with a clean white cloth. Preferably (לכתחילה) she performs a bedikah that inspects the folds and crevices [i.e. of the inner walls of the vagina] reaching to the place which the ‘member threshes’ [i.e. where the penis is inserted and ejaculates during intercourse, which is considered the entire depth of the vagina until the opening of the cervix], as mentioned in the Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 196:6. However, after the fact (בדיעבד), just the depth to which her hand reaches is sufficient, as per the Rema there. If the cloth comes out clean, it is then recommended that she place a mokh  within ‘that place’ for the duration of time between bein ha-shemashot and tzeit ha-kokhavim , and if the mokh then comes out clean she may begin to count seven clean days from that night (as regards the color of the cloth after the bedikah, see chapter 2 above that deals with the laws of ketemim).
However, our teacher the Rambam  did not mention these practices and recorded only the law of the Talmud  alone, which is: On the day that the blood stops, she checks herself by only wiping (בקינוח בלבד) ‘that place,’ and if it emerges clean then she begins to count the seven clean days.  Such was the practice of the Jewish women of Yemen once upon a time, but it seems that currently they conduct themselves according to the more intensive practice. 
The women of the Sefardic tradition, in accordance with the Shulhan Arukh, inspect themselves until the point that the ‘member threshes,’ and the women of the Ashkenazic tradition, in accordance with view of the Rema, inspect themselves only to the point that their fingers naturally reach.”
 A hargashah refers to a bodily feeling experienced by a woman that usually accompanies uterine bleeding, including – and most usually – menstruation.
 The aharonim refers to rabbinic scholars who wrote after the publication of the Shulhan Arukh (ca. 1500 CE to the present).
 The “calendars” being referred to here are the commonly published tables of zemanim (halakhic times) throughout the year. The “shekiah” designated in the majority of such calendars refers to the setting of the sun behind the visible horizon.
 The phrase “that place” (אותו מקום) is lashon naki for the vagina as it is viewed from without. Lashon naki refers to “erudite language,” i.e. delicate pseudonyms used by scholars when discussing subjects related to sex and sexuality in an effort to imbue the discussion with proper honor and to avoid overly graphic depictions.
 As explained above, a mokh refers to a mokh dahuk (מוך דחוק), which is mentioned in the Talmud only in connection to its use as a form of birth control (akin to idea behind the modern contraceptive sponge), but is never mentioned with regard to the laws of family purity. It’s use in this way is a contrivance and a humrah instituted first by the Rashba in his Taharat HaBayit, and later prescribed in the Shulhan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah 196:1).
 The terms bein ha-shemashot and tzeit ha-kokhavim refer, in general, to a period of time that takes place at some point after the setting of the sun behind the visible horizon and the appearance of three “medium-sized” stars in the night sky, respectively. Their exact timing is a subject of lengthy and ongoing halakhic debate, but the position espoused by the Rambam, and thus adopted by Rav Tzefanyah Arusi, will be explained below.
 The phrase רבנו הרמב”ם is used in Yemenite writings in much the same way that מרן is used in Sefardic communities.
 The phrases דין התלמוד and דין התלמודי refer to the bare ruling of the Talmud as stated in the Talmud itself, without a view to later additions and [usually] strictures that were created or contrived by later writings. These mekori expressions are used intensively in the writings of both Rav Ratzon Arusi and his son, Rav Tzefanyah.
 The “wiping” referred to here is no different than is commonly used by women when cleaning themselves after urination. It certainly moves the outer labia aside, but there is no inward direct penetration by the fingers, as is usually required by those who instruct women in taharat ha-mishpahah. As Rav Tzefanyah writes explicitly later on in the chapter (p. 107):
“Every bedikah that a woman is obligated to perform, whether she is in a state of purity or uncleanness, she must do it using a cloth made of well-worn white linen, or cotton, or clean soft wool – all of these materials are considered reliable witnesses to her bedikah (cf. Hilkhot Isurei Bi’ah 4:14). According to the opinion of our teacher the Rambam, the manner of performing a bedikah is the same for every instance that one must be performed, whether she is in a state of purity or uncleanness, which is an external wiping between the lips [i.e. of the vagina].”
And as is explained in the note there, the explicit language of the Rambam in Hilkhot Isurei Bi’ah 4:13-15 is that of “wiping” (קינוח, מקנח) only and not of some sort of invasive examination. The point of this check, as stated by the Rambam, is to ascertain that the flow of blood has stopped, not to determine if there is a stray bit of blood in the vagina.
 The “more intensive practice” is actually the word mahmirim (מחמירים) and is usually translated or understood as referring someone or something that is “strict.” However, I chose the render it as “more intensive” to remove the idea that while the practitioners of the Shulhan Arukh are serious in their observance, the Rambam and those who rely on him are somehow lax, which is certainly not the case.
“The Proper Time for Performing a Bedikah of a Hefsek Taharah
According to the opinion of our teacher the Rambam, the bedikah has to be performed before the day becomes dark [ג]. And this was the custom of the Jewish women of Yemen (as well as some among the women of Ashkenaz). However, most of the women from all the ethnic sub-groups (edot; עדות) are very careful to perform a bedikah specifically at the time just prior to the time of shekiah which is printed in the calendars (and this was also the practice of many women of the Sefardic and Ashkenazic traditions, and the practice of many among the Yemenite women living in Eretz Yisrael closely resembled this).
If she forgot to perform the bedikah before sunset (shekiah), but did the bedikah after sunset and before tzeit ha-kokhavim – it still counts for her as a hefsek taharah that was performed during daylight hours, and she may begin counting the first of her seven clean days from that night. [ד]
However, if she performed the bedikah after tzeit ha-kokhavim, her counting is thereby delayed and she may only begin counting her seven clean days on the night of the following day.
If a woman is unable to perform a bedikah just prior to sunset due to either work, travel, an event, or other similar reasons, she is able to perform a bedikah in the morning or the afternoon. If it is clean, this bedikah counts for her as a valid hefsek taharah, and she begins counting seven clean days from that night.
[ג] According to the opinion of our teacher the Rambam, ‘shekiat ha-hamah’ refers to the appearance of 2 stars and ‘tzeit ha-kokhavim’ refers to the appearance of 3 stars. There is a span of approximately 20 minutes between them (one third of an hour), that is between the appearance of 1 star to the appearance of 3 stars. The mere setting of the sun behind the visible horizon is considered to be prior to ‘shekiat ha-hamah’ and is not the same as the time of ‘shekiat ha-hamah’ that is advertised in the calendars. The entire time that the sun is set behind the visible horizon and there is 1 star, it is still completely day [yom gamur hu] according to halakhah because that one star is considered a daytime star. When the second star appears, it is split between day and night since it is considered to be the appearance of 1 daytime star and 1 nighttime star, without the possibility of deciding between them – and it this time that is referred to as ‘bein ha-shemashot’ (i.e. doubtfully day and doubtfully night). Once the third star appears, it is decisively nighttime since there are 2 night stars against 1 day star. ‘Shekiat ha-hamah‘ is a description of when these 2 stars appear, which is also known as ‘tzeit hakokhavim’ (i.e. ‘stars’ indicates at least two). From the Torah [מדאורייתא] we suspect that it is likely too late after the appearance of the second star, because we think that perhaps the third star appeared and we didn’t see it … In the opinion of Rav Yosef Qafih z”l, from the time that the sun drops just below the visible horizon until the appearance of the first star takes about 15 minutes, and between the appearance of 1 star and 3 stars is about 20 minutes, making it [i.e. halakhic nightfall] a total of 35 minutes after the setting of the sun behind the visible horizon …
[ד] See the previous comment. In the Pithei Teshuvot (196, p. 378) it says, ‘There are those who wrote to be lenient until 13 minutes after shekiah (cf. Taharat HaBayit there), and others who wrote to be lenient until 20 minutes after shekiah (cf. Birurei Halakhah, in the name of the Satmar Rebbe; the Nit’ai Gavriel in the name of the Tzanzer Rebbe.’ And he writes in the FAQ there, ‘Those who conduct themselves according to Rabbenu Tam, if they checked after shekiah they ask a competent rav.’
The Wonderful News for Jewish Women
- NO MORE internal examinations that injure and irritate the delicate walls of the vagina. It is not halakhically necessary for any bedikah, for any purpose. Those who maintain that it is necessary are relying on post-Talmudic inventions that derive from mainly ascetic concerns.
- NO MORE using a mokh. Ever. It is simply not required.
- NO MORE waiting until just prior to shekiah or delaying the counting of seven clean days due to the bedikah being done a few minutes late. A hefsek taharah can be performed either earlier in the day or, not ideally, up to 15-20 minutes after sunset. Ladies, don’t wait so long into the day to make your bedikah when you can do it before you leave for work in the morning!
My sincere hope is that this was helpful and cleared up confusion on the subject. Once again, mekoriut wins the day of practical observances of the halakhah.